The long, winding Quetta Highway, leading to the outskirts of Quetta city, is scattered with shops selling all kinds of wares. They are set against a backdrop of stark, barren and somewhat ominous-looking mountains, stripped of greenery.
This is the setting for the Al-Dubai Restaurant and Garden, specialising in the traditional delicacy called rosh, a rustic-looking dish typical to Baloch culture.
Having travelled to Quetta off and on for the last 30 years or so, I have witnessed the city transform from a sleepy old town to today’s busy urban hub with messy traffic jams. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the hospitable attitude of its people and their warm, welcoming nature.
The fact that it’s considered quite rude in Quetta to blow car horns, no matter how messy or chaotic the traffic, further adds to the charm of this city and its people. The people of Quetta take quite a bit of pride in this fact, although I can’t imagine how long the tradition will last, given the swelling volume of traffic inside the city and the narrow, winding roads.
When it comes to the local delicacy called ‘rosh’, Al-Dubai Restaurant and Garden on Quetta Highway has achieved perfection. Don’t let anybody tell you or convince you otherwise
Back to Al-Dubai, the restaurant is a no-nonsense set-up given the burgeoning volume of its patrons. At the time I visited it for lunch, it was packed to the rafters with more customers continuously flowing in.
Although the very fancy Black Diamond — a favourite haunt of weekenders with its extensive menu — has sprung up nearby, Al-Dubai prides itself for selling the best rosh in town, with the meat literally falling off the bone.
Prep for the dish starts with the slaughtering of a goat and then large chunks of leg meat are chopped off and cooked till they are tender and moist. They are served with a side of moong dal and piping-hot naan from the tandoor.
Slightly on the oily side, rosh has minimal seasoning with just salt and the taste of the dish lies in its tenderness and earthy taste. To chase it down, a jugful of freshly prepared salty lassi [buttermilk] is served with raita [seasoned yoghurt] and green salad.
Feeling somewhat adventurous, the photographer and I decided to order another main course called joint, which was exactly that — joints cooked to tender perfection and served with French fries. But rosh remains the hero at Al-Dubai.
Afterwards, our party ordered green tea or qehwa, served with locally available Irani candy to give it a sweet kick. The leftovers, of which there were many, were duly neatly packed and given to us to be enjoyed in our hotel room later.
I also ended up buying a few boxes of freshly baked and wonderful-tasting walnut cake, which is made by a local bakery and stacked at Al-Dubai for sale.
As I left the brightly coloured, oil-painted interior of Al-Dubai Restaurant and Garden, I asked around why it was called so. I half expected a reply that the owner had come back from Dubai and opened it up from the earnings he had made and managed to save in the Gulf country. After all, the sign board also has an image of the iconic Burj Al Arab featured quite prominently.
Alas, no such backstory could be confirmed by the sources available. However, the only backstory that did get confirmation was that the restaurant owner, Abdul Nasir Kasi, had started Al-Dubai with very humble beginnings in 2010-11 and, back then, it was visited mostly by heavy vehicle drivers during lunch hours. This truck stop story made sense, as the restaurant lay on the busy Quetta Highway, plied by commercial vehicles.
From these modest beginnings, Al-Dubai’s fame spread by word of mouth — everyone knows that the best roadside restaurants are the ones that get the most trucker traffic. As the patrons grew, so did the establishment, into what it is today.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, May 15th, 2022